Posts Tagged ‘best restaurants’

Restaurant La Chronique
Dinner on: April 23rd 2014, 18:00
Type of cuisine:  Updated French-based market-driven cooking (Fine dining)
Addr: 104 ave Laurier Ouest
Phone: 514.271.3095
URL: http://www.lachronique.qc.ca/

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL

This month, I am revisiting some of Montreal’s top restaurants. This time, La Chronique.  La Chronique is considered by plenty of   ‘experts” of the local food scene as one of Montreal’s very best tables. Even if my previous visit here did not impress me (its review can be found here),   there was still no doubt in my mind that La Chronique’s  envious  position on the local restaurant scene was justified (if you carefully re-read that review, it’s not the skills of the kitchen that I had issues with, far from that. It was the presence of couple of items I judged not worthy of that tasting menu). Anyways, la Chronique has always ranked in my top 7 best tables of this city,  although   the  meal I was having on this evening  gave me no other choice but to  firmly insert La Chronique in my personal top 3 in Montreal (La Porte/Au Cinquieme Peche/La Chronique).  I think that most Montreal food connoisseurs (food journalists, etc) got it right in their assessment of La Chronique.  Where those ‘experts’ of the local food scene have largely missed the boat was in the case of XO Le Restaurant (when Chef Michelle Mercuri was working there, he is now working at Le Serpent) as well as the (now closed) Le Marly : it was laughable to observe that the ‘experts’ were  raving about weak Chefs at the helm of average restaurants and largely ignoring two of the very best tables that Montreal ever had . BUT oh well, what do you want… it’s all subjective, n’est-ce pas?  ;p

 

Back to La Chronique. They have now moved to 104 ave Laurier Ouest, right in front of their old location, the restaurant having  two floors. On the street level, the room is narrow and small, with an elegant interior bathed in warm tones of white and dark brown, a large glass window providing great penetration of natural light.  Upstairs, they have a private dining room for special events as well as some few tables.

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_MENU

 

 

 

 

 

On this evening, the market driven menu featured 5 starters as well as 5 main courses, which is, in my view, a smart way, for a kitchen relying on the freshest produce available , to better express itself without the distraction of long (unfocused) offerings. There was an additional tasting menu available.

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_LOBSTER BISQUE

 

 

 

 

 

 

I opted for the tasting menu, which kicked off with a first-rate lobster bisque. This is the other ‘best’ lobster bisque I ever had in Montreal, the other startling bisque is one that I once had at Le Bonaparte. Le Bonaparte’s is executed the traditional way, whereas this one is a revised take on that. I am normally a hardcore purist when it comes to the bisque, but this rendition cooked by La Chronique just broadened my perspective of the bisque beyond my once firm veneration of the traditional bisque: inside the bisque,  thinly sliced leeks, pieces of lobster meat and truffle cream as well as the thoughtful addition of parmesan cheese crumble. On paper, that addition of parmesan cheese crumble was the touch I was afraid the purist in me would be frustrated about, but in mouth it turned out to provoke exciting sensations that would convert any purist on a heartbeat. When I learned cooking,  I was taught to always respect tradition and to  build on the best part of the past.  When you master the flavors of the past, however crazy you want to express yourelf, chances are that you’ll pull off something great because it’s built on solid foundations. This is what this bisque was about:  you still had the best part of its traditional conception (the traditional bisque flavor was there) and much much more, in a much much more exciting fashion…  This was a  bisque about exceptional skills, by any standards of dining, here and abroad, its depth of flavor and fabulous texture simply of benchmark material 10/10

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_tuna tataki, shrimp tempura

 

 

 

Followed by tuna tataki, shrimp tempura, drops of spicy mayo of unparralled depth of taste, avocado purée of spectacular quality lifted by an exciting fresh kick of acidity, quality cucumber nicely marinated (the marinade’s expression being spectacular in mouth). The tuna tataki featured high-grade tuna (references to quality will abound in this article – yep, when a kitchen uses such stellar ingredients, to such great effect, there’s no shame about underlining the feature endlessly), its spicy crust marked by balanced and highly enjoyable heat sensation. The shrimp tempura encased in phyllo pastry, the shrimp beautifully meaty,  its taste utterly fresh and  exciting, the phyllo pastry executed well.  Inspired! 9/10

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_scallops

 

 

 

 

 

Next, scallop from Iles de la Madeleine. You’ve got the picture by now: the scallop was not the usual average scallop most restaurants in town are serving, its sear spot on and of course, the flavour exciting. Inside the scallop, some of the freshest crab meat I ever had on a table in Montreal. On the plate, quality cauliflower completing the dish. 8/10

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_pan sear foie  gras

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then,  pan sear foie gras (of examplary fresh quality and memorable deliciousness, the sear admirable, the deep livery flavor so typical of the finest seared foie gras lingering on my palate), pastrami of duck (a clin d’oeil to the pastrami that we all know, but here using duck – this was flawlessly executed), drops of an exciting reduction of soya/maple-syrup (yeah, the kind most cooks will pretend to never miss, so easy it sounds, but rest assured that most can’t pull this off this skilfully),  and superb potatoes. 8/10

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_lamb

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lamb of Kamouraska rank  among the finest quality lambs of this province, the kitchen carefully opting for a top-grade short saddle of lamb. This was not only of fabulous quality by any standard that I can think of, here and abroad, but everything else was as admirable: remarkable depth of fresh meaty flavor, irreproachable accompaniments such as beautifully sourced zucchini, olives and a vibrant chickpea purée. Another top class dish. 9/10

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_baba au rhum

 

 

 

Ended with a take on the baba au rhum, topped by a stellar homemade ice cream of almonds/amaretto/vanilla (10/10 for the ice cream, and like most ppl….I haven’t started enjoying ice creams ..yesterday;p ) as well as a ‘brunoise’ of  pineapple that did benefit from exemplary sourcing (the acidity low, which is great, and for those familiar with the matter, it was easy to see that this is pineapple that was hand picked at its optimal stage of ripeness / we were far from the ordinary looking and dull tasting average pineapple that so sadly abounds in plenty of restaurants in town, a remarkable feature for a table that could have rest on its laurels following the previous spectacular courses BUT that chose , instead, to maintain the bar of its quality produce high till the very end), the baba au rhum risen enoughly long to allow better flavor, the cake light, having a perfect crumb and, on this instance, not boozy at all. An excellent take on the Baba au rhum (9/10).

Service was  of great hospitality standard, with on this evening, one waiter and also the Chef serving   his own dishes. Chef Olivier De Montigny came regularly in the room to serve every patron and he explained that he tries to not roam away from the principles of French cooking by avoiding flourishes such as, to take an example, espumas. Well, that is exactly what I favor the most too.  I find that too many people go to restaurants with absolutely zero knowledge of what the restaurant is doing. How many times did I hear people expecting flourishes on tables that are focusing on doing the classics great, the flourishes really not in their plans at all. You want flourishes, fine, but then do expect it where you should: at a restaurant that’s known to adopt it.  It is nice that Chefs serve their own food and explain what they try to achieve:  it’s the best way to remind ourselves that a good part of enjoying a meal is to understand what it is about, not what we want it to be.

Wine pairings was a charm, featuring some top choices with excellent picks such as a dazzling glass of brego cellars pinot noir (2010) serving as a brilliant match to the pan seared foie dish, an amazing glass of  Jermann Afix Riesling 2012 (great pairing to the tuna tataki) or the memorable Passito del Rospo 2009 2009 (for the baba au rhum).

Overall food rating: 10/10 The meal I was enjoying on this evening is a 10/10 meal by Montreal highest restaurant standards, an enthralling meal from end to end. This is  revised/updated French-based artisan Chef cooking (Chef Olivier de Montigny is not watching TV at home while you dine here, he is right there working for real in his kitchen), with a Chef who has a great palate (something I regrettably can’t say about a myriad of cooks …) and superb skills using what count among the finest ingredients to be found on a table of this city.  The restaurant itself is also classy: minimally but tastefully decorated, intimate/cozy.  I know restaurants  in France and across Europe that went on to  earn two Michelin stars for the quality of food  that I was enjoying on this evening.  I decided to indulge in their elaborate evening tasting menu so that I can enjoy their work in its full glory, but they also have affordable lunch menus for those who want to try La Chronique at lower cost. La Chronique deservedly joins La Porte, Au Cinquième Péché, Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon   in  the ‘cream of the crop’ of my favourite restaurants in Montreal.

 

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Event: Dinner @ Le Marly restaurant, Montreal
When: Saturday April 23rd 2011, 19:00
Type of food: Modern French Bistronomy (on lunch), Fine dining gourmet (on evenings)
Addr: 1065, cote du Beaver Hall, Montreal, QC
Phone: 514-439-3904
Web site: http://www.lemarly.ca/

UPDATEDTHIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED

 

Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7), just Ok (6)

Click here for a recap of  my picks of all Montreal’s top fine dining & best Montreal’s bistrots.
Also: My  3 and 2 Star Michelin restaurant review web site

UPDATE JULY 2012: CLOSED SINCE NOVEMBER 2011 – THIS REVIEW IS KEPT ONLINE FOR HISTORICAL VALUE. CHEF BELAIR IS NOW EXECUTIVE CHEF AT AIX CUISINE DU TERROIR.

(English review to follow) – J’anticipe votre réaction “hein,..quoi..du calibre d’un 3 étoiles Michelin…mais il est fou celui  là”. Et vram le survol d’attentes surréalistes! Rires. Soyons clairs: je ne fonctionne qu’avec ce que je vis, je conclus que sur ce que je sais: Je ne suis point  devin et ne pourrai prévoir  si vous vivrez le meme sentiment , mais ce repas du Samedi 23 Avril 2011 à 19:00 fut tout aussi spectaculaire que la majorité des meilleurs repas 3 Étoiles Michelin que j’ai eu l”occasion de savourer. Que vous dire d’autre? Ah oui, qu’il faut pas jouer à l’autruche: un restaurant c’est d’abord un Chef  qu’on le veuille ou Non. Alors, j’ai fait mes devoirs: j’y suis allé un Samedi Soir car je ne m’attends pas à ce qu’1 Chef soit aux fourneaux 24/24, midi et soir, 7/7. Parcontre, Un Vendredi ou Un Samedi Soir, je m’attends à ce qu’il y soit (oui, je sais, certains Chefs travaillent nuit et jour, Peut etre que le Chef Belair est dans cette ligue,  mais c’est surhumain) et le Chef Belair y était comme il y est souvent d’ailleurs. C’est un Chef au talent exceptionnel. Oui, de calibre 2 à 3 étoiles Michelin. Facilement. Si vous y alliez sur l’heure du midi (c’est rare de trouver du gastronomique élaboré sur l’heure du midi ici ou ailleurs) , ou au moment qu’il n’y est pas et que vous m’envoyiez un courriel pour me dire que ce ne fut pas aussi grandiose que ce que j’y ai vécu, alors il faudrait peut etre relire ce que je viens d’écrire!. Et je concluerai sur ceci: Le Chef Jean-Francois est un Chef  d’exception!

I know…with a title like ‘Food of 3-star Michelin level!’, one might think that this is a new marketing strategy. Especially because this is Montreal, a city that …in the perceptions of most foodies and gourmands around the globe….can not succeed at such level…..perceptions, dear perceptions, oh you dear perceptions….I still remember those folks, defining  Montreal food restaurant scene’s perfection  to Le Club Chasse & Peche and Au Pied de Cochon….my project (the current web blog and my top 15 best dinners in Mtl & surroundings) was a direct response to them: buds, you got it all wrong!

Le Marly…I will be honest with you…has never captured my attention as far as food goes: its night-club feel is enticing, indeed, but there was no particular interest in its food: the initial reviews on its restaurant  confirmed that I was right. But then Le Marly  sent a serious warning to Montreal’s food scene: in February, they hired a Chef with an exceptional  raw talent, Jean Francois Belair. I waited 3 months before stepping foot, enough time for Chef Belair to set his comfort zone. I will, for once, let the food talk for itself…before we talk about anything else:

Snails – snails of top quality with an intense, rich savourish snail-meaty sauce on beds of  impeccable brussels sprouts. Excellent 10/10

Cream of corn, parsley foamy milk, coq au vin nugget:   – The nugget of coq au vin  is cooking at its best: a depth of taste that simply revolutionizes the taste of   coq au vin, which on its own is already one of the most flavorful French meals. Whilst the coq au vin nugget, a reference for any upper level cooking performance, was impressive, the cream of corn/parsley foamy milk would be of fair 2-star Michelin refinement (of all corn-based creations that have left great impression, only Navarrete Jr’s Corn soup, Potato salad, chives, aioli, crab meat  fared  better than this one of Chef Belair, for its more flavorful impact), but it stood no short of excellence: a mastery in balanced taste (both the taste of the corn milk and the parsley were harmonious and complemented each other well) and texture. 10/10

Carpaccio of beef – perfect raw meat, of impeccable quality, expressed through impeccable technique and mesmerizing deliciousness.  Each morsel of the composition elevated the overall dish brilliantly: parmesan cheese in its best condition, utterly fresh quality bok choy providing an un-matched kick of taste when paired with the parmesan cheese, parnsnip rediscovered at its best, home made potato chips that are nothing short of perfection…who would think that a potato chip —an already delicious item — had a lot more to prove? Obviously Chef Belair is one of the few who thought so. Carpaccio perfected!  10/10

Medaillon d’agneau, lentil du puy au Chorizo, purée d’olives noir, jus simple – Chef Belair has great humor: at two occasions, he mentionned ‘jus simple’ (simple jus) both on the initial ‘Snails’ dish, and then on this dish. I am sure he believes that his sauces are indeed simple, but in reality most of the 3-star Michelin Chefs that I know will revere him for his amazing sauces. Sounds too flattering, you might think? Nah..would be reality’s response. Have you noticed that I do not bother anymore losing my time with technical notes like ”the meaty beefy note of the sauce was balanced by a perfected texture, enhanced by  a well seasoned jus”…??? Right, there’s no need for such description…especially when the food is perfected to this point. This was Jannice’s food and I had no intent to sample it. But she insisted: huney, you should try this lamb…pure perfection in cooking technique..pure perfection in refinement of taste…you should taste the purée of olives, a redefinition of the perfect olives purée…  Jannice is one of the few which palate   I trust the most  and this  has nothing to do with the fact that she is my sweet half, she does have a profound and unique developped ‘sense of taste’. I tried the lamb (a flesh of impeccable  quality, with an excellent mouthsome and a top-tier jus which lifted the dish well)  3-star Michelin perfection, on this dish . 10/10

Supreme de pintade, champignons pied de mouton, nage de mais, daikon – In March, when we were dining at 3-star Michelin Ledoyen in Paris, my mum had the ‘poulet de bresse’ which is highly regarded as one of the finest poultry at that top level of dining.  Ledoyen’s meal has not impressed as you can read on that review (although that ‘poulet de bresse was not reviewed on that post), but from bites of my Mum’s ‘poulet de bresse’, I  have to admit that her dish was in the top 3 best poultry dishes I ever sampled. The supreme de pintade of Chef Belair is in its own league though: far superior to the Poulet de Bresse in all aspects: excellent depth taste, perfect moisture consistency, accompaniments (potatoes, apple, shrimps, daikon) that were cooked and tasted of exquisite perfection. 10/10

Meyer lemon pie, lemon sorbet – Here, I wish I had a top of the line camera. The picture does not do justice to this dessert. regardless, I want to say this: you know, at our top of the line world’s best tables, buzz aside, what you get on your plate is usually one or two marvellous dishes of exceptional level (the 10/10 that I use), and then a lot of well mastered courses but with nothing out of this world (the 8/10 that I use). And usually, you have either stellar savoury dishes or stellar desserts (L’Ambroisie was one of the few 3-star Michelin tables that delivered stellar execution in both savories and desserts), but rarely both. Tonight, Le marly’s kitchen offered 3-star Michelin perfect food not only towards their savoury dishes, but also in their desserts: the lemon pie and its sorbet were not only packed with a stunning depth of fruity flavour (loved the intense flavor of the sorbet) but their  respective execution was nothing short of perfection. Stellar! 10/10

Caramelised poached pear, churros, salty caramel – I used to say that France is unbeatable when it comes to desserts. I kept saying so even after having tasted the amazing desserts of Quebec’s talented pastry Chefs like Patrice Demers (Although, I have always preferred Rouyé‘s desserts). But  the pastry Chef at Le Marly has put an end to my belief: he did not even need modern sophisticated creations to impress. Nah…he went right in the basics, the simple ingredients, the simple techniques, the simple pastries  (poached pears, churros, salty caramel) and elevated everything to rarely matched execution in terms of perfected refined taste and texture (here, the quality of that pear stood out, the execution of the churros was flawless).  10/10

Decor
Modern, design, Bistro-chic  decor. There’s a night-clubbing feel to the place, but obviously they take the food very seriously (not a huge place: when you enter, the bar is on the right, the restaurant part facing the bar on your left. They will also have a 30-seat terrace open for summer).

The menu
Relatively short but smartly thought (varied): for ie, the main courses included a variety of food items (guinea fowl, boar, lamb, fish) with diverse accompaniments. The same could be said of the starters and the wine list (wine list has lots of affordable choices, with mostly plenty of wines from France and Italy but also some from other parts of the world). I found the by-the-glass pairings to be among the ones that I enjoyed the most in Montreal (Alex, my waiter and sommelier of this evening mastered so well his pairings). Here’s a sample of their menu.

Service:
impeccable (Alex, our waiter, was the perfect balance between professionalism, accomodation, coolness, patience  and took great care of his customers). Great work ethic from what I could see on this evening’s dinner (not stuffy at all, but caring and friendly).

Price:
A bargain for such level of food. You can see the prices on their online menu.

CONCLUSIONS:

What impressed me the most with this dinner was that rare ability of elevating familiar cooking to excellence: take those snails, the lamb medaillon, the lentils, the guinea fowl, the poached pears for ie. They sound very familiar, perhaps, but the modern re-work of those dishes was superb, exciting, and as Jannice stated ‘this is food that brought emotions”.

What about the  10/10 marks? Does perfection exist? I am not one who forces his imagination to see trouble where there is not. If a dish has superb depth of flavor, is very well executed and stands as ultimately delicious to my palate, then that is a perfect dish to me. If it is lacking, then that is not a perfect dish. The marks over 10 should not be a surprise: this blog is not about ‘adventure-sly’ discovering restaurants, but focuses on restaurants  that has long proven to stand out in Montreal. In the case of Le Marly, it is the arrival of talented Chef Belair at this place that attracted me there. And yet, despite focusing on a certain level of skilled cuisine, some  meals at other restaurants have failed  miserably if you take time to go though all my reviews. Regarding each course of this meal at Le Marly, they deserved their high scores for the amazing top quality ingredients and high level cuisine that was experienced on this evening. And even where they sounded simple (snails, poached pear), they were executed with outstanding refinement. Being able to make the most out of the least, that — in my opinion — is one important equation of a skilled kitchen.

Recently, when reviewing le Filet Restaurant, I was stating (following the launch of my latest 3-star Michelin Star dining web site that saw light in Paris), that Montreal most talented Chefs (Michelle Mercuri at XO Le Restaurant, Navarrette Jr at Raza, Rouyé at La Porte, Normand Laprise at Toque, Loiseau at Bistro Cocagne, Pelletier @ Club Chasse & Peche, etc) are mostly as stellar as the best 2 Star Michelin Parisian Chefs. I also mentionned that Paris had a big advantage on the 3-star Michelin dining level and that only Michelle Mercuri’s XO Le Restaurant was of 3-star Michelin caliber. Chef Belair, on  the back of  this exceptional dinner performed to a level of perfect 3-star caliber Michelin cuisine. Furthermore, this meal  is the  new #3 of my top 15 best dinners in  Montreal’s & Surroundings.

What about the reference to the 3-star Michelin? Was that a joke? Rfaol…Nope, not at all. First, I am talking about 3-star Michelin level of food. In Montreal, up to now, only  4 dinners have reached that level in my opinion:
-XO Le restaurant’s March 19th 2010 dinner
Raza’s October  22nd 2010
-To some extent, the dinner I had at  La Porte was almost of that level, too
-This one dinner at Marly
Of course, they are not identical: Raza was modern Latino/French, XO Le Restaurant was Modern European, La Porte Modern French, same could be said of this one dinner at Le Marly.  Those were all food that definitely left better impression on me than at some attended 3-star Michelin meals like my 2008 lunch at Jean Georges, or the most recent 3-star Michelin meal at Ledoyen. With that said, from my perspective, food of a level of 3-star Michelin just means food which cooking and taste have been perfected to a rarely matched level. But even at that level there are several sub-levels of perfection: a 3-star Michelin table like L’Ambroisie, for ie, pertains to the top of the crop of 3-star Michelin perfection, and even among the best well established official 3-star restaurants I don’t see many approaching to the excellent level of L’Ambroisie. So, in the case of  this above reviewed meal at Le Marly I am referring to a good level of 3-star Michelin level, which although is by no means to the level of L’Ambroisie remains a solid dinner performance of the highest order. I’ll go back!

Wishing you the same amazement!

PROS: This was a startling dinner. As long as Chef Belair keeps the heat ON as what I found on this meal, Le Marly will be in Montreal’s top 3 fine dining destinations.

CONS: Nothing to complain about. But a reminder: I believe that the best time to indulge at most restaurants with such skilled Chef is in the evening, especially a Friday or Saturday evening.